Waymo Readies Autonomous Vehicles for Extreme Heat Testing

To ensure that the autonomous tech on its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans is capable of working in extreme conditions, Waymo has started to test its vehicles in Death Valley, Calif.

Vineeth Joel Patel
    Jul 21, 2017 10:00 AM  PT
Waymo Readies Autonomous Vehicles for Extreme Heat Testing
author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

Automobiles go through rigorous testing to ensure that all of the components, everything from larger things like the powertrain to things that are hidden away like the wiring, work in all types of conditions. Autonomous technology has added a lot of new components to cars, including major hardware and software parts, making them massive mobile computers. And to ensure that the machines are ready for daily use, they need to be put through extreme testing. 

Waymo Heads To Death Valley

In a recent blog post, Waymo announced that it began testing its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in extreme weather, most notably the heat. The tech company, as it outlined in the post, is testing its vehicles in one of the hottest locations on the planet – Death Valley, Calif. Waymo didn't just transport its vehicles to area, but instead, embarked on a three-day journey from Davis Dam, which straddles the border between Arizona and Nevada to Las Vegas and then to Death Valley. 

Why test in Death Valley? Well, as Waymo's post points out, Furnace Creek, which is a census-designated place in the state, reached the hottest temperature on Earth back on July 10, 1913 when temperatures hit 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently, that's hot enough to melt the soles of your shoes. 

Simon, one of Waymo's senior thermal engineers, explained why extreme heat testing is so crucial. While extreme-heat testing is critical for regular automobiles, it's more pertinent for self-driving cars. "But when you add self-driving systems to a car – which generate their own additional heat – conducting rigorous testing to ensure your systems can withstand high temperatures is even more important," said Simon.  

Anyone that has forgotten his or her phone in a vehicle on a hot day can relate to how poorly electronics cope with heat. But Waymo has a larger problem on its hands, as cars need to be able to cope with much worse. "Our self-driving system needs to be much more reliable than your typical home electronics, said Simon. 

Extreme-Heating Testing Continues

This isn't the first time Waymo has heat tested its Pacifica minivans, as the tech company started testing its vehicles last year with a drive cell, which is an aerothermal wind tunnel. "Using the drive cell we can mimic almost any weather condition, including the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the country," said Simon. After completing testing in the wind tunnel, the company is ready to take on the real world. 

During the trip, Waymo put the Pacifica minivans through difficult tasks, including stop-and-go traffic, long idle times, sharp inclines, and more, while taking over 200 different measurements per second. The testing, as the company claims, went smoothly, as Simon states that the "hardware is road-ready for extreme heat." He went on to state that drivers, if they choose to go to the hottest location in the U.S., would still be comfortable. 

"Waymo's cars will still be able to get them where they need to go," Simon said. That's good news, and is another step before Waymo can release its vehicles on the road. 

via: Waymo